According To A Chitimacha Legend, There Was Once
A Giant Snake So Long It Stretched Out Over 100 Miles.
The Chitimacha chief called upon all his warriors to kill the venomous reptile. They armed themselves with clubs and bows and arrows and attacked the serpent, wounding it fatally.
As it writhed in agony, its body carved deep furrows into the soft ground. Water flowed in and today we know it as Bayou Teche, named for the Chitimacha word for snake. The Bayou Teche Scenic Byway meanders alongside the sinuous stream, past sugar cane fields, little towns and stately plantations.
My husband Jack and I drove only a small portion of the road –
but we found great history, beautiful scenery
and wonderful food on our journey.
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This is the heart of Cajun country. “Cajun,” a corruption of the name “Acadian,” refers to French settlers who were expelled from eastern Canada by the English in the mid-1700s. Many of them came to Louisiana, a number coming up the bayou and settling in this area.
The story was romanticized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem “Evangeline.” Several stories credit actual residents as the inspiration. The famous Evangeline Oak is said to be the place where Emmeline Labiche and Louis Arceneaux, the Evangeline and Gabriel of the poem, met. You can walk around the historic downtown in a very short time. Visit the Acadian Museum for a more factual retelling of the area’s history. Stop by the beautiful St. Martin de Tours Church (1836), which has a statue of Evangeline on the grounds.
For even more history, visit the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site. On the site, Maison Olivier, an 1815 Creole house, several examples of Cajun structures and a small museum highlight both cultures and how they lived. We had a great guide here and he even cut a stalk of sugar cane so we could taste the juice. Believe me; it takes a lot more processing before it’s going into my tea!
We made one more stop before leaving the area. Pine and Oak Alley required a lot of imagination – there are still enough trees to give the impression of what was once a magnificent allée. The plantation was owned by a man so fabulously wealthy that when his twin daughters were married, he brought in large spiders to spin webs over the trees, then had his servants spray them with gold and silver dust. Now, no spiders, no gold, no plantation; just an unkempt line of trees standing as testament to what once was. But the story has become local legend – and I’m glad we stopped.
This charming old town is strung out along the bayou and offers several attractions, including a historic working rice mill and the Bayou Teche Museum. If you go to the Konriko Rice Mill, be sure to buy several boxes of their Wild Pecan Brown Rice.
The town’s star attraction is the lovely Shadows-on-the-Teche, an 1834 mansion owned by the same family for many generations before being donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These walls have seen a lot of history and, with 17,000 documents saved by the family, the story is fully told.
Many people know of New Iberia through the books of James Lee Burke and his protagonist, Dave Robicheaux. It was fun picking out sites we’d read about in the books. We wanted to eat lunch at Victor’s Cafeteria by the sign in the window that reads, “Where Dave eats,” but it was closed.
Jack’s not much of a museum-goer so he sat outside while I toured the Bayou Teche Museum. A woman walked by and spoke and Jack said, “I’m waiting for Dave Robicheaux to come by.” Without missing a beat she replied, “You just missed him, he was here yesterday.”
On the back roads of the byway, we passed field after field of sugar cane that reached higher than an elephant’s eye. Much of southern Louisiana’s agriculture has been based on cane and five of the state’s 11 raw sugar mills are located along the Teche. Many of the beautiful plantations still standing were built from sugar fortunes.
This was true of the Fairfax House. With a view of Bayou Teche, it stood in the middle of a sugar cane field. Today, surrounded by live oaks, it is a lovely bed and breakfast with six beautifully decorated rooms. Its classic Greek Revival elegance and spacious grounds make it a favorite venue for weddings and the perfect spot for a romantic getaway.
The town of Franklin was founded in 1808 and boasts a number of fine old homes. Its interesting historic district features many structures on the National Register of Historic Places.
Oaklawn Manor, built in 1837, is the real eye-popper in Franklin. Now the home of former Governor and Mrs. “Mike” Foster, it is open to the public. The furnishings are eclectic – from antique to modern – and luxurious. Aubusson tapestries and a desk from one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s palaces are right at home with Newcomb pottery and George Rodrigue’s Blue Dogs.
From Bayou to Birdie
From the byway, we followed our GPS to check out the Atchafalaya at Idlewild, a highly rated golf course. We saw a lot of scenery before we gave up and phoned for directions – not the first time on this trip!
The 18-hole Audubon course was designed with great care taken to preserve the natural landscape and wildlife by the firm that designed the Doral, LaCosta and the TPC at Woodlands. Most of the holes have water on them. The rule here is if an alligator gets your ball, you can subtract 15 strokes!
From Patterson, travelers on the Teche trail can proceed to Morgan City where the bayou ends. From there, it’s just a short jaunt to New Orleans and a whole ’nother adventure.
Some of the places we enjoyed on this trip included:
► St. John in St. Martinville – Cajun and creole dishes plus steaks. The crab cakes were the size of hamburgers and had generous chunks of crab in them.
► Yellow Bowl in Jeanerette – a local favorite since 1927. The house specialties include fried crawfish tails and crab au gratin – crab, cream, cheese … just go ahead and rub it on your hips.
► Atchafalaya Clubhouse Restaurant – at the golf course, Patterson. The clubhouse, built in an elevated Acadian style from beautiful cypress wood, features their signature Catfish Atchafalya – a fried or grilled filet with crawfish étouffée and rice.
For more information about the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway and this area of Louisiana, visit cajuncoast.com.